Behind The Wargame: Michael & Jo Of Oathsworn Miniatures

January 10, 2019 by brennon

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I got the chance to talk to Oathsworn Miniatures' Michael and Jo, getting to know where it all began for them, a little about the process that they go through when creating the rules, miniatures and terrain for Burrows & Badgers and more too.

Behind The Wargame: Michael & Jo Of Oathsworn Miniatures

So, without further ado let's dive in and have a chat!

Ben: How did you first get into tabletop games?

Michael: I bought my first Citadel Miniatures when I was ten; an Orc, four Half-orcs, and a Dwarf. The same year (1983) a group of us started playing Basic D&D, and shortly after I bought 1st Edition Warhammer. Although I didn't start playing it until the 2nd Edition came out the next year, which was much easier to understand!

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Jo: Ever since I was a little girl I've played general board games like Monopoly & Cleudo and card games such as Crazy Eights and Rummy. Then as I grew older I got into word games like Scrabble & Boggle (which I still love to play). It's been the last few years really that I've been introduced to the more niche tabletop gaming including miniatures games.

B: When did you first know you wanted to be games designers and sculptors?

M: 1983, when I was ten! I started messing around with house rules for games pretty much straight away and had a go at sculpting. I'd read in the Citadel Journal that they used epoxy putty to sculpt miniatures, so I bought some Milliput... but I didn't know about armatures, and only had a cocktail stick to use as a tool, so my attempts were a bit of a disaster, and I soon gave up.

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J: I've always loved art and crafting. I've taught 'get crafty with your kids' through a local college, and I've run a 'how-to craft' website for several years, so it felt very natural to have a go at sculpting too. I've only designed and sculpted terrain so far, I've not ventured into miniature sculpting yet but it's something for the future.

B: Who was your inspiration within the industry and are there any new people that you look up to now?

M: Tom Meier, originally. He's just amazing, and even after forty-odd years, he's probably the best miniatures sculptor around. Currently, Jes Goodwin and Brian Nelson are doing amazing stuff at Games Workshop. In terms of larger scale historicals, I really admire Sergey Slobov, David Krentz, Sean Cooper (both paleosculptors) and Nick Bibby (ex-Citadel, now an awesome wildlife sculptor)  as they are big inspirations to me.

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J: I'm always in awe of people who are masters in their chosen field. Obviously, I think Michael's brill, especially since I've seen his journey from 'having a go' many years ago, to the characters he sculpts now.

In the past few months, I've got into painting miniatures, and I'm totally hooked. I'm so impressed with the talented community of hobbyists we have, they're great!

B: Tell us a bit about your design process. Where did you start when coming up with Burrows & Badgers?

M: The B&B miniatures were suggested by one of our customers; he wanted anthropomorphic animals where the shrews and mice are small, and the badgers are massive. So I said I'd give it a go, and people really liked them!

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Rules-wise, I just made a list of the kind of things I wanted from a game; integrated turn sequence, small model count, dramatic action, a progression system, stuff like that. Then I started figuring out how to make it all work...

J: Michael's already developed the world of Northymbra for Burrows & Badgers, which is a mix of Dark Ages, Renaissance & Medieval. So when designing terrain for that world it's really a matter of imagining what it would be like there.

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It helps that I love to read fantasy fiction with loads of magic in it. I also enjoy quirky elements, like when I sculpted the stone circle and the stones spelt out 'OATHSWORN' in Elder Futhark runes, that was cool.

B: Do you have a specific miniature(s) from the Oathsworn miniatures collection that you're particularly proud of?

M: To be honest, I'm pretty critical of my own stuff. I'm never really happy with any of them! Probably my favourite is the Hare Warrior...

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...but even with him, there are bits I really want to re-sculpt.

J: They all have so much character it's difficult to choose only one, but I do love the Shrew Baker from our lateKickstarterter.

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She's totally how I picture myself...I'd happily wield a rolling pin & frying pan to protect my kids.

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From the miniatures I've painted so far, I love the Otter Rogue, but that's because I'm really chuffed with the way the jewel on her sword turned out.

B: What have been some of the stumbling blocks you've encountered when working in the industry?

M: It can be difficult to get into trade shows; there's a lot of shows we haven't been able to get a stand at, and a few who won't even reply to our emails. But probably the biggest problem is having to wear all the hats - sculpting, writing, painting, photography, packing orders, social media etc. It would be nice to be rich, and pay some people to do some of it for us!

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J: It's difficult, but you have to try not to take things to heart. You can't please everyone, and not all people will like your stuff, but it's hard to remember all the wonderful comments and happy people all over the world who are enjoying our minis etc when one person decides to have a moan.

B: What are you currently playing when it comes to tabletop games?

M: Mostly play-tests of our in-development stuff, really. I've been hoping to get some games of Gangs of Rome, Kill Team and Gaslands in, but I never seem to get the spare time...we do sneak the odd boardgame night in, though!

J: I'm really enjoying co-operative games at the moment. Over the holidays we played 'Spaceteam' and 'Ravine' by Matthew Sisson, which were both Kickstarter projects that our daughter Lizzie backed, and we've since bought ourselves. My favourite though would have to be 'One-Night: Ultimate Werewolf' from Bezier Games, we had loads of fun playing it at Christmas, can't wait for our next gaming night.

B: Do you have a favourite event that you like to attend?

M: UK Games Expo, without a doubt. Huge crowds, but it's very friendly, with a lot of couples and families attending. Salute's a great show too, but being a very full-on one day event, you don't get time to see anything as a trader, so the UKGE takes the win for me.

J: UKGE, hands down! We love the Expo. A very friendly atmosphere with so many games to play, what's not to love.

B: What would be your advice to others aspiring to break into the industry, especially when it comes to sculpting?

M: Practice, a lot! I was rubbish to start with, and it takes time to get good. Conversions are a good way to start learning how to handle the putty. Really, you need to learn first of all to manipulate your medium properly, to feel how it responds to input (either putty, or digital medium if you're going the Zbrush route). Then, learn about anatomy; proportions and the like. Finally, learn as much as you can about how miniatures are produced; there's a big difference between a sculptor who's work just looks good in a photo, and one who's work is ready for the production process.

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J: 'Never give up, never surrender!' ...'If you can dream it, you can do it!'...I could probably think of more movie quotes that would be good advice but I'll just say what Michael's always telling me, 'practice, practice, practice!'

B: What can we expect to see from you in the coming year?

M: I want to say - at least one Burrows & Badgers supplement, plus more minis for the range, as well as a sports game and an RPG for the same setting. But given that we've got about half a dozen other games in various states of development, who knows what will actually happen. A couple of extra days a week would be a big help...

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J: I'd like to design & sculpt some more terrain, especially now we're working with Chris at Lancaster Casting, he's great with resin. I'm also working on my drawing skills, I'd like to be good enough for my art to be used in a future Burrows & Badgers expansion.

B: What do you think we can expect from the gaming industry in the coming year?

M: Tough times for games stores, I think. There's so much new product being released that there's simply too much for a small store to handle. Picking and choosing the right product to carry is increasingly difficult. I think we'll see more manufacturers only selling direct, too.

In terms of miniatures games, I expect we'll see more skirmish games with relatively simple rules, and low figure counts. I think that's a consequence of the crowded marketplace; new products need low barriers to entry.

J: I’ve no idea what to expect, there’s so much going on, but I'd love to see some more multiplayer games, especially co-operative ones, as I'm really enjoying playing in a group.

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It was great talking to Michael and Jo from Oathsworn and hopefully, they've inspired you to not only check out Burrows & Badgers but also think about giving this whole rules writing and sculpting thing a go.

If you're interested in learning more about sculpting then Michael has put together an in-depth project HERE where you can see how he brought to life a number of the characters from the recent Kickstarter.

You can also check out my review of Burrows & Badgers HERE where I give you a rundown of why it's one of my favourite games.

Have you given the game a go or checked out their range of miniatures? Let us know your favourite models!

"I bought my first Citadel Miniatures when I was ten; an Orc, four Half-orcs, and a Dwarf..."

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"She's totally how I picture myself...I'd happily wield a rolling pin & frying pan to protect my kids..."

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